Some advice for Tony Blair

Stop treating the Palestinians as hapless victims and start holding them to account for their actions.

blair 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
blair 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Given the dismal record of his predecessors, Tony Blair knows the obstacles he faces as the Quartet's new peace envoy. Blair has seen the failure of the old simplistic approaches tried over the past decade and presumably recognizes that there is no magic formula for instant peace. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the most protracted ethno-national-religious wars in contemporary history. The brutality of the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the collapse of the remnants of Fatah may provide the basis for an entirely new approach based on a fundamental change in policies and perceptions. In particular, the patronizing and ineffective emphasis on Palestinian "suffering" and "helplessness" dominant since 1948 must end. In the fighting in Gaza, Palestinians were again portrayed as victims, this time seeking refuge in Israel from their self-inflicted wounds. If progress toward peace is to be made the Palestinians must stop seeing themselves (and we must stop seeing them) simply as passive victims, incapable of meeting obligations such as security, economic development and basic human rights. The rampant corruption and failed leadership in Palestinian society is a product of the massive welfare system in place since the Israeli defeat of the 1948 Arab invasion, and the refugees that resulted. At that time, temporary camps were created by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Rather than work to end their refugee status, as in similar situations (including Israel's success in integrating hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who fled violence in Arab countries), this situation was deliberately and cynically perpetuated. The objective was blatantly political: As long as refugees and camps existed, the goal of reversing the UN Partition Plan and, with it, the establishment of Israel remained alive. In this central respect, nothing has changed in almost 60 years. BEYOND THE massive economic cost of maintaining this situation - UNRWA spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year - there is the damage caused by perpetuating the image of Palestinian victimization. The second Arab defeat in the 1967 war reinforced this image, as well as increased welfare funding from European governments, church groups and pro-Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Although the PLO was founded way back in 1964 and came to be accepted as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," its leaders limited their activities to the struggle against Israel. Yasser Arafat showed no interest in building civil society, or in ending Palestinian dependence and victimization. On the contrary; for decades he was a major contributor to this syndrome. The international community, and particularly European governments, perpetuated and widened this process, providing additional funds, often in bags of cash handed over directly to Arafat and his cronies. Officials in London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Oslo, Bern, Stockholm, Rome and elsewhere ignored the obvious evidence of massive corruption and the lack of interest in building institutions or providing services. (A report written much later by the EU's watchdog agency OLAF remains a tightly guarded secret, making a mockery of European calls for transparency.) PATERNALISTIC European leaders did not expect anything better from Arafat and Fatah, and provided aid regardless of Palestinian behavior. After the 1993 Oslo peace framework established the Palestinian Authority, the image of victims and helpless refugees continued, and the corruption increased, abetted by the donors. In parallel, the "Palestinian cause" and the prevalent image of "helpless victims" is perpetuated by pressure groups, journalists, church officials, academics and politicians. In Britain powerful organizations such as War on Want, Christian Aid and others hold rallies and collect funds for the Palestinians, demonizing Israel through boycott and divestment campaigns. Similar efforts are common in the rest of Europe, as well as in North America. No amount of bus or cafe bombings - no matter the repulsive Palestinian violence - would be enough to dissuade officials at Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch to change their image of Israel as neocolonialist. Palestinians have not been expected to behave by the ordinary rules of moral and civilized behavior, to educate their children without incitement to violence, or to respect human rights. GIVEN THIS dismal condition, Blair would be well advised to avoid continued emphasis on "victimization" and sympathy for "Palestinian suffering." Instead of unconditional and unlimited assistance, the terms should be radically altered. Palestinians must be shown that aid will decrease annually, and that they have no alternative but to use the assistance they are getting to become self-sufficient and to demand effective leaders. Such an approach, if embarked upon, would be difficult to implement for Blair and his staff. They would encounter stiff resistance from Palestinian, European and UNRWA officials. There would be opposition from the development agencies, pro-Palestinian NGOs which receive UNRWA funding, and elsewhere. After all, for 60 years, they have known no other approach. But if Blair were to switch from unconditional and unlimited assistance to the Palestinians to holding them to account for their actions, more of them would come to realize that support for terror and preaching of incitement in schools, mosques and the media has taken on an unacceptable cost. And, together with Blair, they would also understand that the decades of war with Israel must finally come to an end through difficult compromises on the Palestinian side as well. Without leaders and society capable of such compromises, no amount of peace-making will succeed. The writer heads the political studies department at Bar-Ilan University, and is the executive director of